Don’t throw out the box!

I admit it – I’m something of a hoarder. I’m alway saving those extra screws that come with “some assembly required” furniture or hanging on to old electronics cables on the theory that they might be useful some day. Most of the time, this old junk just ends up just being wasted space, although on rare occasion I do find a good use for them.

My wife is always pushing to get rid of this unneeded clutter, and we have identified the basement and my desk in the study as the two “safe zones” for stuff we don’t really need. If I can find a place for it in there, it gets to stay.

Except for boxes – they live in a strange neutral zone.

My wife has a strong argument for getting rid of them as soon as they are opened, since they clearly serve no useful purpose and are awfully bulky. However, I immediately argue that we might need to return whatever came in there, and we can’t do that without the box. She will generally concede this point, so the boxes get to linger for a month until I admit that we are clearly keeping whatever came in there. Then they get recycled. Well, except for the boxes of the iPads, iPhones, and other various Apple products I have bought. I hide them in the attic crawl space where my wife never looks.

These battle lines have remained relatively stable for 16 years of marriage, but now things are changing. Rather than just be being a debate between the two of us, our children have their own opinions. Would they be hoarders, or would they be organizers?

My daughter clearly was going to be in my camp. She objects to the disposal of any item, arguing, “I can use that!” She has visions of it become the basis of some art project and runs up to her room to hide it.

I was less certain about my son. He has a strong organizing streak from his mother and loves to help clean up, put things away, and otherwise make things orderly. It’s so strong in him that I sometimes express doubt about his paternity (jokingly, of course).

This week, we learned exactly where the apple fell.

During Rosh Hashanah services, my son refused to stay in kids groups on his own and insisted I accompany him. I wanted to finish davening, so I bribed him by promising to buy him a toy helicopter if he would stay on his own (actually, someone has explained to me this is a reward, not a bribe, since it is given after the fact).

Since he held up his end of the bargain, I held up mine. I bought him his first Playmobile toy.  When I came in the door holding it, he was over the moon with joy. There is nothing quite like the look on the face of a four-year-old child surprised to find you holding a shiny new toy. He scoured all of the pictures on the box showing its various features, and then we opened it together. After a couple of minutes of assembly work, he was off playing with it. A very happy boy.

As my wife proceeded to tidy up the kitchen, I saw her out of the corner of my eye break down the box and head towards the recycling bin.

The box is part of the excitement.

The box is part of the excitement.

“I wouldn’t do that!” I cautioned.

My wife looked at me puzzled. “Why?” Clearly we weren’t going to return it. What purpose could the box have?

I was at a loss for words. When a kid is that excited about a toy, you just can’t throw out the box. It had pictures of all the different features and ways you could play with it. It was part of the magic.

My son immediately came over crying, “No!” He wanted that box. And so, my wife handed it over, and then just hung her head. What was it about these boys and their boxes? She just didn’t understand.

For days now, the box has been floating around the house. This evening, we checked again with my son about whether he was done with it, but he said no.

“Well, in that case, we’ll have to put it in the basement,” my wife said, and he agreed.

Yep, he is my son indeed.

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